News Brief
LGBTQ Crisis

Russia Reacts to Orlando

In the aftermath of the biggest shooting on U.S. soil, Vladimir Putin was quick to reach out to Obama in a message calling the terrorist attack “barbaric.” Prime Minister Medvedev sent a telegram to his counterpart Joe Biden and several days later Putin called America the world’s “only superpower” and said he welcomes a restoration of U.S.-Russia relations.

Some Russia analysts cautiously hailed the response, recalling Putin’s message to President Bush after September 11th which launched an unprecedented period of collaboration between the Cold War rivals in the Middle East. But the Kremlin has spent the past decade stoking hatred towards gays at home and responding to the Orlando shooting turned out to be a confusing test for Russian politicians and the police force.

Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov was compelled to condemn a widely shared post from Ramil Ibragimov, a former TV presenter in Russia’s republic of Tatarstan, who praised the Orlando shooting on his Facebook and Instagram. The television star called the Orlando shooter a “righteous Afghan” and wrote that “we really hope that all of them will die,” in reference to the remaining 53 injured victims.

But even official condemnations of homophobic messages on social media were awkward at times. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova called Ibragimov’s messages and others “disgusting” in a Facebook post but then compared the defense of Orlando’s massacre to legitimizing an attack on children with “developmental disabilities” or on a maternity ward.

Some of the Russian state-controlled media, like Tass news agency, avoided specifying in many of its bulletins that Pulse in Orlando was a gay nightclub and covered the event as an act of Islamic terrorism.

Many of the homophobic messages came from President Putin’s supporters. Alexander Dugin, a former professor at Moscow State University and an ideologue behind Putin’s concept of Russki Mir, which inspired annexation of Crimea, alerted his Twitter followers about the Orlando attack with the Tweet: “Massacre in sodomite club in the US.” In his circle, which overlaps with officials close to Putin, the word sodomite often replaces homosexual.

Ibragimov’s post, filled with exclamation points, smiley faces and unprintable language, was particularly embarrassing as the largest photo at the top of his Facebook page is a selfie he took with Medvedev.The prosecutor’s office in Tatarstan is now investigating Ibragimov for supporting terrorism. But at the same time two men were arrested outside of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after trying to add to the flowers and messages left by people in memory of those killed in Orlando. Their sign said, “Love wins.”